William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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The reforming afflatus which in Robertson produced the
Endowment Scheme, proved in the life and work of Dr
Norman Macleod productive of as beneficent results. Though
he was too young to take any prominent part in the conten-
tions preceding the Secession, he was acknowledged to be a
power even in the Assembly of '43. In the years immediately
succeeding, when the policy of Dissent was to exclude and
ignore the Church in every great public movement, his services
were simply inestimable. Too energetic to be repressed, he
soon proved himself too able and too eloquent to be dispensed
with. One whose presence and power were eagerly sought,
both in the great May Meetings in Exeter Hall, and afterwards
in the Councils of the Evangelical Alliance, could not fail to
be recognised as essential to the successful advocacy of any
charitable or religious movement in Scotland. And wherever
he appeared, he served to raise the credit of the Church that
owned him. Translated to the Barony in 185 1, he found in
Glasgow a sphere worthy of his genius. While multitudes of
the most influential classes of society gathered around him,
large congregations, composed entirely of working men and of
the poor, hung Sabbath after Sabbath on his lips. Those

332 . Si Giles^ Lectures.

who heard the Word were instructed in the blessedness of
doing it. His enormous parish was organised so as to secure
a complete visitation of its most destitute districts. Schools
were provided, mission stations were projected and equipped,
and by-and-by parish after parish was disjoined from it.
Things deemed impossibilities to others became under him
easily accomplished facts. Success in one of the most trying
of spheres helped immensely to inspire courage in others, and
ministers all over the Church felt their difficulties become
simplicities just in proportion as they allowed themselves to
come under the spell of his enthusiasm. When to his already
too heavy responsibilities was added the Convenership of the
Foreign Mission Committee, he threw himself into its work with
all the fervour of an apostle. With a voice like the sound of
a trumpet, he summoned the Church ' to the help of the
Lord against the mighty.' His labours in this connection
cannot be reckoned. I question if even yet we can form
anything like an adequate conception of the gigantic tasks
which he set himself, and the work which he attempted to
do. Equally ready to plead his cause in the obscurest parish
in Scotland, and in the stately halls of the Viceroy in India,
he may be said to have been consumed by his own ardour.
At an age when we were depending on the fulness of his
strength and wisdom, he fell the victim of his own enthusiasm
— a man mourned alike by his Sovereign and by the poorest
of her subjects, whom he felt it his privilege to serve.

No true Churchman — and many have done virtuously during
this period — will ever grudge my humble tribute to Macleod
and Robertson. They are among the greatest gifts that have
been bestowed on the Church of our day. The work which
they prosecuted was in every sense of the word a Revival,
whose effects may be traced in the immense development of
the Church around us. If during this period the revenue and
operations of the Home Mission have quadrupled; if the
Foreign Mission, deprived by the Secession of all its agents

The Church from 1843 to 1881. 333

save one, is now strong enough to send its contingent — con-
fessedly still too small — of preachers and teachers, Zenana and
medical missionaries, to join at eight centres in India, one in
China, one in Africa, that noble army which from all points of
the compass aims at the conquest of heathendom for Christ ;
if the same progress and extension mark the operations of the
Jewish Mission ; if the Colonial Scheme, now consolidated,
exerts its beneficent influence in almost every quarter of the
globe in which our army and navy serve, or our country-
men settle ; if an ever-deepening sense of responsibility pre-
vails among the congregations and Presbyteries of the Church
— this result is due in no small measure to the influence of
these two men, who, differing in many things, yet twins in
spirit, and united as friends, recalled the Church to the
true significance of its position as National, and to its
burden and glory of service as a branch of the Church of

So far the reformation of the Church is indirectly traceable
to the legislation of 1844. For though legislation cannot
create life, it can remove many obstructions in the way of
its growth. The fact that, without taxing any outsider, or
burdening a single conscience, a fourth of the whole number
has been added to the parochial charges of Scotland ; and the
additional facts that, in 1878, 129,700 communicants were
returned from these quoad sacra parishes alone, and that
;^i 18,050 was reported in the same year as their contribution
to the Christian Liberality Committee, indicate the extent to
which the population has availed itself of, and appreciates the
benefits secured through, the operation of Sir James Graham's
Act. The difficulties which troubled the Church prior to '43
in the way of meeting the religious wants of the people, have
so far been removed. Let us now attend to the working of
another Act of Parliament, which in August 1843 was passed
to meet a difficulty quite as great — namely, the adjustment of
popular claims in the settlement of ministers.

334 "^^ ales' Lectures.

By many in the Church, the Scotch Benefices Act was hailed
as a highly satisfactory and extremely popular measure. Indeed,
both in the Church and in Parliament it was strongly opposed
as too liberal. It was said to invest the Church with too ample
discretionary powers, and to reduce the right of a patron to
all but a shadow. Experience of its working, however, soon
revealed that what it gave with the one hand, it took away
with the other. Capricious decisions, involving all parties
in heavy expense, and producing increasing irritation and
secession from the Church, were its inevitable results. So, in
spite of all attempts made by the General Assembly to secure
by regulation its better working, the conviction only deepened,
that, though well intentioned, it could only operate to the
disadvantage of the Church and to the damage even of

As early as 1854, Dr Gillan vainly besought the Presbytery
of Glasgow to declare that the chief evils under which the
Church suffered were inseparable from the system of Patron-
age which the Act sought to administer. In 1857 he was
foiled in a similar attempt in the General Assembly. In
1859, Dr Lee ineffectually argued for a modified veto. But
thenceforth overtures brought the unsatisfactory working of the
Act before every Assembly, discussion became more frequent
and earnest, public feeling was roused, till in 1866 it was plain
that a movement was stirring which only required some outward
impetus to give it both direction and success. That impetus
was speedily supplied by the political events of the time. A
vast increase of political power had been conferred by the new
Reform Act upon the lower middle and Avorking classes of
the country \ and even men averse to change had to con-
fess that if the Church was to be in harmony with a greatly
enfranchised people, the dead-weight of Patronage must at
once be got rid of in some constitutional way.

In the Assembly of 1868, the ranks of the Patronage and
Anti-Patronage supporters met in their first earnest grapple;

The Church from 1843 to \ZZ\. 335

and after a keen and honourable struggle, it was decided by a
very narrow majority to appoint the Committee of Inquiry,
which had hitherto been evaded or refused. Its report to next
General Assembly was decisive in favour of a modification of
the law. A prolonged and severe debate ensued; and when
the vote was called, the large majority of 193 to 88 sealed the
Church's condemnation of the most fruitful source of all her
evils, and committed the Assembly to all lawful attempts to
secure its speedy abolition. Petitions brought the decision of
the Church before both Houses of Parliament ; and a deputa-
tion, which had been cordially received by influential men of
all parties, on the day on which the second reading of the
Irish Church Disestablishment Bill had passed the House of
Lords, laid the case before the Premier. His reception was
courteous, but his reply, though afterwards interpreted to
convey a meaning which perhaps it did not bear, seemed
to justify the motion in next General Assembly that the
movement should be delayed till the government indi-
cated the course which they meant to follow. The Rubicon
had, however, been crossed ; the rights of the people could
no longer be tampered with. By a larger majority than ever,
the decision of the former Assembly was ratified, and from
that point onwards substantial unanimity prevailed in the
further prosecution of the movement.

The Anti-Patronage movement involved its supporters in no
small share of misrepresentation and reproach, as if it origi-
nated in, and was governed solely by, hostility to Dissenting com-
munions. Never was reproach more unmerited. If any policy
dictated this movement, it was that of conciliating Dissenters.
Indeed, there were times when it was felt that conciliation of
outsiders was carried on at the risk of alienating many who
were within. Its promoters could not hope that union of sun-
dered Presbyterians would immediately follow the abolition of
Patronage, but it was plain that until it was taken away, all
possible approach to union was barred. As an indication of

336 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

their hope and intention, at this very stage, upon the call of the
late Lord Gordon, a resolution was passed, and a committee
was appointed to promote the union of churches that had
seceded from the Establishment on account of Patronage, and
that still adhered to its Confession and system of worship.

At this period there were probably not fifty men in the whole
ranks of the Church who did not most earnestly desire that
Dissenting Presbyterians should be embraced in this movement.
Never at any time since 1843 had the Church assumed an
attitude unfriendly to Dissent. It was remarked, even at that
time, that no feeling save that of affectionate regret found
expression in regard to those who seceded. In self-defence,
it had to rescind and remit to a committee the Act anent
* Ministerial Communion,' repealed only a year before ; but
no accusation could be more unfair or undeserved than
that of Dr Candlish, that by so doing, 'they have virtually
cut off all Christendom from their communion.' ^ His party,
though dominant for years, made no effort to abolish the
obnoxious Act, till in 1842, when affairs were drawing to
a crisis, policy suggested its repeal as likely to appease
their former enemies. The Church was too leavened by
the very spirit against which the foolish Act of 1799 '^^^
directed to regard it with favour. Even then, friendly co-
operation with other bodies, when practicable, was not only
sanctioned but enjoined. Every subsequent enactment has
been in the direction of facilitating and promoting co-operation,
and at this date the pulpits of the Establishment are practically
more open to ministers of other communions, than those of
Dissenting denominations can be said to be to ourselves.

It was with no unfriendly eye that the Church regarded the
first gathering together of the scattered streams of Scottish
Presbyterianism, in the union of the churches of Erskine and
Gillespie in 1847. Again, when in 1863, the first proposal for

1 Candlish's Life, p. 306,

The Church from 1843 /<? 1881, 337

union between the United denominations and the Free Church
was launched, there were very many within the Church who,
wearied with the divisions of a family that ought to be united,
really hoped that a better day was dawning for all. It seemed
to them that if honestly entered upon and honourably carried
out, the movement must develop into negotiations for union im-
mensely more comprehensive. The United Presbyterian on one
important point was as far removed from the Free, as was that
Church from the Establishment on another. It was but reason-
able to expect that the Free Church would be as ready to
consider with their old friends the principle of Christ's Headship
over the Church, as they were prepared to consider with their
recent foes the twin principle of Christ's Headship over the
State. But alas, the opportunity cannot even be said to have
been lost ; it was deliberately, by both negotiating parties,
thrown away. They could not inaugurate their diplomacy
without emitting declarations which, while excluding the
Church, were purposely offensive. Her professors were here-
tics, her ministers were ritualists in disguise. And so by the
time that the Anti-Patronage movement had assumed definite
form, it was evident that co-operation was simply impossible.
Lord Gordon's ' olive branch ' was met by resolutions breathing
a spirit of determined hostility to the Church. It was the
humiliation of the Church, and not union with it, that was
desired ; and so it was plain that if the Church were to succeed
in obtaining the abolition of Patronage, it would be against the
combined opposition of those whose fathers found it a yoke
too grievous to be borne.

A Conservative government has the credit of undoing the
mischievous legislation which an old Tory government had
imposed. On 19th May 1874, a Bill to abolish Patronage and
repeal the Act of Queen Anne was introduced by the Duke of
Richmond into the House of Lords, and through all its subse-
quent stages it was ably supported by the Duke of Argyll. It
was discussed by Peers on both sides of the House with


So^ •S'/ Gtks^ Lectures.

a general desire to produce a measure that would be con-
sonant to the principles of the Church, and the genius of
the people of Scotland. The result was that, really amended
in some important points, the Bill left the Lords vesting the
patronage in the congregation, leaving the Church to define and
settle who are its members and who are entitled to be called
adherents. Direct opposition to a measure so consistent with
the traditions and principles of all Presbyterians in Scotland was
impossible in the Commons, so the mode of assault was a
plausible motion for delay and inquiry. It became evident,
however, that the real objection lay in the new and monstrous
doctrine that to do anything favourable to the Church as a
national institution is against the interests of those who live by
opposing it. It was strange to find this doctrine advocated by
men who had just settled, in the interest of the public good and
economy, the question of national education in a manner which
pressed hard upon many schools and teachers hitherto voluntarily
supported. Unprejudiced people could not see that Dissenters
had any just vested interest in the abuses of the Church, but
they could see that the Bill most highly complimented Dissenters
in embodying the very principles for which they had so nobly
contended, and in securing, not to the actual ministers and
members of the Church, but to the whole Presbyterian polity
of the people, a statute which shewed that the old Church
of the nation rests still, where, after persecution and martyr-
dom, their fathers and ours re-established it, on the settle-
ment of 1690. It is too soon to judge of an Act which has so
recently come into operation. It has failed, as was foreseen
from the first, to conciliate ecclesiastical opponents, but an
immense majority of the people of Scotland rejoice in its
passing ; and yet there is hope that opponents may come to
acknowledge that the removal of an ancient. grievance was not
a sectional triumph, but a truly national gain.

With the Secession of '43, the troubles of the Church as to
civil jurisdiction completely ended. In the declamations of

The C}ui7'ch from 1843 to 1881. 339

that time, and even yet, it is asserted that her peace was only
purchased by sinful submission ; but now that in the course of
a generation, passion has had time to cool, and prejudice to
clear away, men are coming to see that from a contest which,
undoubtedly originating in a demand for a popular right, ended
in a ' demand for a clerical, which would eventually have
scattered popular liberty to the winds,' the Church has emerged
with its constitutional liberties intact. Its history since the
Secession is a triumphant vindication of its independence. In
every case of discipline in which the civil court has been asked
to interfere with its decisions, it has declined, on the ground
that the proceedings complained of were within the exclusive
jurisdiction of the Church. Three times during that period have
the Seceders of '43 been before the civil courts in reference
to a spiritual sentence complained of as illegally pronounced ;
and against their defence that the court could not interfere
in sentences pronounced as a matter of Church discipHne by an
association of Christians tolerated by law, it was held that a
voluntary association of Christians has no jurisdiction, in the
proper legal sense of the term, and that sentences of suspension
and deposition pronounced by them were not such spiritual
acts as could not be taken cognisance of by the civil courts.

With such decisions staring us in the face, we might surely
expect that spiritual independence should be left by the Free
Church as ' open ' a question in relation to the Establishment
as the great majority of its members are willing to leave the
question of Christ's Headship over the State in their relation
to the Voluntaries. It is plain that secession can never secure
such spiritual independence as is claimed, and that the alliance
of Church with State in Scotland is not inimical to it. The
Act of 1874, which repealed the Act of Queen Anne restoring
Patronage, may be said to have revived all the ancient decla-
rations of Parliament on the subject of the Church's Rights.
It can henceforth only serve the purpose of a partisan to
describe that Act as Erastian. Mr Gladstone, a most com-

340 Sf Giles'' Lectures.

petent judge, in his speech of July 6, 1874, objected to the
Bill ' as intended to commit to the Church powers not pos-
sessed by any voluntary religious communion in the country.'
The Duke of Argyll, again, in a paper reprinted from the
Contemp07'ary Review in 1878, testifies that the effect of the
Act is to ' enable advocates of spiritual independence,' which
he thinks ' too wide, too absolute to be theoretically true,' to
affirm their view within the Establishment without any practical
contradiction from the law.' Surely blindness in part has
happened to those who do not see what an enormous advantage
is thus secured, not only to the members of the Established
Church, but to that Presbyterian polity and creed, which nine-
tenths even of Scottish Dissenters profess alike to revere and
to believe.

During this last period, the Church has favoured no political
party, and if wisely guided, it will not attach itself to any. Its
ministers and congregations represent all shades of political
opinion in very much the same proportions as they exist in
the country. Consequently, in regard to party influence, the
Church is virtually powerless ; and if political influence be an
advantage to a professedly spiritual society, Dissenting com-
munions in this respect excel it. As a national institution,
however, the Church has been affected by the political changes
of the last generation, and no sketch of this period would be
complete which did not notice some of those which have
modified and even altered its relation to the country at large.

A Commission of Inquiry into the working of the Poor-law
system, appointed long before the Secession, reported in 1844;
and in 1845, an Act, based upon the report, was passed, super-
seding the old system of relief of the poor by voluntary assess-
ment of heritors and offerings of congregations. It is a fashion
with some people to decry this statute as one of the most
revolutionary of the century, as communistic in its principles,
and demoralising in its effects. But such people evidently
forget that no human agency for the amelioration of the con-

The Church from 1843 to 1881. 341

dition of the poor is perfect, and that the best will contain in
themselves, or develop in their working, tendencies of a more
or less deteriorating kind, against which we must guard as best
we can. They also labour under the common fallacy that the
Act created the evils which it only brought to light. It was
rendered necessary by the utter break-down of a system, which,
though excellent in theory, and successful in certain given
circumstances, had proved palpably inadequate to the wants
of the age. The chief lesson to be gained from it is the
illustration which it affords of the utter failure of the voluntary
principle to provide for a want of national m^agnitude. If ever
there was a sphere in which that principle was likely to succeed,
it was furnished by the care of the poor. And yet, just as
Chalmers predicted, its own keenest advocates were the loudest
in demanding that the poor should be rescued from dependence
upon its caprice.

The abolition of University Tests was another measure
affecting the Church, To secure Presbyterianism against Epis-
copalian conspiracies, it was enacted in 1690, and again in
1707, that no professor should be admitted to a Scottish chair
without first subscribing the Confession of Faith, and promising
to adhere to the worship and discipline of the Church. Legis-
lation demanded solely by the exigencies of the time very pro-
perly fell into abeyance as the danger ceased. In Edinburgh,
during the most of the last century, tests were not applied, and
since the Leslie controversy, had only been applied in the case
of the theological chairs. At the time when the agitation was
culminating, it was discovered that more than a fourth of the
professors of Scotland were serving without having signed, and
that many of the most distinguished among them were members
of the very Episcopalian Church which the tests were meant to
exclude. It was not to be wondered at, therefore, that after
the failure of several Bills in Parliament, the election of a Free
Church Professor to the Chair of Moral Philosophy by the
Edinburgh Town Council should have brought matters to a

342 Sf Gi/es' Lectures.

crisis. In the litigation which ensued, it was decided that it
was the duty of the Senatus to comply with the terms of the
statute ; but it was not clear how that should be a duty which
had been religiously disregarded for more than a hundred years.
Moreover, none but the most extreme men could defend a test
which admitted those whom it was meant to exclude, and which
could be used to exclude those whom its framers would have
admitted. It was now an agitation not without, but within the
Church. Prominent Churchmen had been in the movement for
years. In the interests both of the Church and of education, it
was imperative that reasonable concessions should be made ;
and even ardent defenders of the Church were glad when the
Act of 1853 swept away a 'crumbling bulwark, which had
become more a danger than a defence.'

By far the most important change in the Church's relation to
the institutions of the country was effected in the matter of
education. During the stormy years of 1842-43, negotiations
with the Privy Council issued in the promise of aid for
Normal schools, and in the establishment of that co-operation
of the government and the Church, which has so materially
influenced the common school instruction of the people. The
Secession, which followed shortly after, proved in regard
to education a gain to the country. For once at least
division was stronger than union. The efforts made by
the Free Church to establish an educational system, produced
in a very few years close upon six hundred schools, and
stimulated the Church to a rivalry which was eventually
to lose much of its bitterness in a field which was large
enough for all.

The policy of the government followed closely that of the
Church previous to this period. It was to ascertain and make
known throughout the country the state of education, in the
hope that voluntary eftbrt for its improvement would follow.
The ecclesiastical divisions of Scotland presented conditions
very favourable to the prosecution of such a policy, and, accord-

77/1? Church fro7n 1843 ^^ 1881. 343

ingly, the system of government grants in aid of denominational

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 33 of 37)